Another Day, Another Fight for Democracy in Erdogan’s Turkey | Sabrina Court

Hundreds of students from Turkey’s prestigious Bogazici University have been arrested over peaceful protests against the government’s appointment of the university’s new rector, Melih Bulu. 

Since early January, students and faculty leaders at Turkey’s prestigious Bogazici University have joined together to protest the undemocratic appointing of the new rector, Mr Bulu, who has been tied to Erdogan’s Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi (AKP), the ruling party. So far, the government’s response to the protest has been familiar and far from sympathetic. Students have called the protests “a fight against injustice”. The AKP have called them“an act of terrorism”. The peaceful protests, mainly consisting of dancing, music, and slogans, have been met with police barricading the campus and arresting hundreds of students. 

One of those students is Doruk, a final year Psychology student. He only wanted his first name to be mentioned out of fear of retaliation. He confided,“We were just peacefully protesting on campus, about 100 of us in total. Then out of nowhere, 1000 police marched onto campus and arrested probably half of us, and the other half managed to run away.”

I asked Doruk about the treatment he received from the police, which he was hesitant to tell me about. “I was put in a cell for two days, in very dire conditions. Our lawyers tried to give us food but the police blocked this from happening. In short, we experienced mental and emotional abuse from the police. This did not come as a surprise though…it’s how it’s been in recent years…as if the police have something against most citizens”. 

Doruk explained that the protests are also a response to the arresting of two exhibition organisers at Bogazici University for displaying an art work, which according to the ruling party, represents an “ugly attack” that “mocked religious beliefs”. The art work reportedly portrays the LGBTQ+ rainbow symbol alongside the Kaaba, a religious building in Mecca, which is considered the most sacred site in Islam. There is also an image of the Shahmaran which is a half woman, half snake Middle Eastern mythical creature.

Since then, Mr Bulu has suspended the university’s LGBTQ+ society, which has been met by more on-campus protests and social media campaigns. This, and other isolating responses from politicians, highlights the conservative nature of Erdogan’s government, which is in blazing contrast to the secular state that Turkey once was. Doga, a student at Bilgi University says that Turkey is “sadly going backwards”. She continues, “our fight is for our future- we are worried about losing our democracy completely, as women’s rights, LGBTQ rights and other human rights are slowly being erased from law and society, with our president trying to divide and isolate us and label anyone that he considers a threat as “terrorists”.

I asked the two students what they hoped to achieve in the near future. Doruk said “right now, our main focus is on one thing: to make Mr Bulu step down. As for our fight for democracy in general, we know that will be a long fight…but nonetheless we will”.

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